Those of you who have been following this blog for some time know of my tendency to "find" information management "lessons" in everyday experiences (witness, for example, my post on Walgreens as a Process Revolutionary).
Well, I've got to tell you, the past few days have been loaded with lessons on the challenges we face in the Era of Extreme Information (for some past thoughts on Extreme Information, see a guest post I did for Chris Preston (@cpreston64), It's Time to Hop into the Deep Water of Big Data).
Two lessons became particularly clear to me during the past week.
Lesson One started with a trip last week to start the process of cleaning out my mother-in-law's house. Nancy (almost 93) is now in a long-term facility near our home, and we have avoided the task of dealing with her home longer than we should. So I took a couple of days of vacation, and we headed off to get started.
Now I need to say before I say anything more, that I love my mother-in-law to death. She is one of the finest and kindest people I have ever known, and nothing that follows should be interpreted in any other light. But I should also say in the context of what follows that she and her husband were products of the Depression "save everything" mentality.
[As an aside, I can testify that I now understand the precise moment that Kodak started having financial problems. It was undoubtedly the moment when my mother-in-law stopped taking photos. Because based on the volume of photos we found in her home, I am convinced that if I could somehow sort them all into a gigantic flip-movie, every moment of the period from 1953 to 2007 would be captured. In real-time.]
But my Extreme Information epiphany in going through this museum of the past half century lies in the organizational structure applied to all of this stuff. The taxonomy used appears to be the following: 1) Gather a variety of unconnected things (one example -- photos, some credit card receipts, a tax return, some newspaper articles, the deed from the sale of a house); 2) Put them in a small plastic grocery bag without a label; 3) Put a double knot in it; and then 4) Put it "somewhere."
Now all of this would not be so challenging if the volume of "stuff" was manageable. It wouldn't really matter if there were a hundred small plastic bags that we needed to go through to find the "stuff" that we now need to save (for records purposes, for family history, or just for sentimental reasons) and to get rid of the rest. But I can tell you from personal experience last week, as we would say in the technology business, "this solution does not scale" over 50 years.
Now before we look too critically at this, I have a question.
Isn't this roughly what often passes for information management in our organizations?
Is there an increasing tendency in your organization to just take all of your information "stuff" and say, "Storage is cheap" (even if it's not) and "We'll just save everything?"
Do you really have any understanding of what is on your shared drives or in those thousands of unmanaged SharePoint repositories?
When someone leaves your organization, do you copy their files onto a DVD "just in case" and put it "somewhere?"
How about our "responsibilities" as personal information managers? We have had the capability to attach metadata to documents for years, but beyond that which is automatically applied, has anyone actually ever done so even in something as mundane as a Word document? Here is my comprehensive set of metadata for the Word file for this post.
Pretty helpful, isn't it?
Not too much different than stuffing a bunch of stuff in a plastic bag and sticking it in a drawer.
The challenge we all have now is that the volume of information coming at us will not scale with our old ad hoc and manual approaches. We need to think differently about this challenge of information governance and disposition.
Large organizations especially need to get serious about this before the storage demands of the information torrent suck up all those discretionary IT funds that are supposed to be reserved for new "investments." Organizations don't have a chance of linking up all the truly relevant information on a customer in a pretty case management system if 75% of the information in our "systems" is the equivalent of a bunch of useless and redundant "stuff" wrapped in plastic bags.
My friend George Parapadakis (@parapadakis) does a good job talking about this challenge in a 2-part post on Content Obesity: Diagnosis and Content Obesity: Treatment. He notes that 70% of the information we are storing in our systems is "rubbish." Chris Preston (@cpreston64) talks about this challenge in The Four Requirements for Establishing Pervasive Governance. [Note - If you've got a really good article on this issue of "Information Disposition in an Era of Extreme Information" post it as a comment -- I may pull the best together in an e-book...]
So Lesson One -- Old manual and ad-hoc approaches to information governance are not just wasteful (as in escalating storage costs) or risky (as in litigation exposure), but they ultimately threaten our ability to use information to effectively engage with customers, partners, and suppliers.
Now on to Lesson Two and a vocabulary lesson.
OK, confess, how many of you have ever hear the word "derecho" before?
It's OK to confess ignorance. I had no idea. Until Friday night.
According to Wikipedia, a "derecho" is...
a widespread and long-lived, violent convectively induced straight-line windstorm that is associated with a fast-moving band of severe thunderstorms in the form of a squall line usually taking the form of a bow echo. Derechos blow in the direction of movement of their associated storms, similar to a gust front, except that the wind is sustained and generally increases in strength behind the "gust" front. A warm weather phenomenon, derechos occur mostly in summer, especially June and July in the Northern Hemisphere. They can occur at any time of the year and occur as frequently at night as in the daylight hours.
Well, we had a hell of a derecho on Friday night in the Washington, DC area.
As a result, the power was out for 2+ days. Many in the area still don't have power.
Oh, and I forgot to mention, it was 100+ degrees during all of this time.
So people have been a bit on edge.
Did I mention the temperature was 100+ degrees?
A few observations from the land of no power.
1 -- I never thought of this, but back in the old days, I think (not sure) gasoline pumps worked without electricity. Well they sure don't now, and as a result, everyone was scrambling for gas.
2 -- This potential gas shortage was exascerbated by the tendency of many of us to drive about aimlessly in our cars to: a) stay cool; and b) use our cars to charge our phones and tablets. Please don't tell the carbon footprint people.
3 -- In our cashless society, some of the grocery stores were open on emergency power, but they could only conduct cash transactions. But many of the ATM machines were not working because of the lack of power.
4 -- Amazon’s main server facility in Northern Virginia was hit hard by the storm. Amazon’s Web Services, which powers many sites and Cloud services, was taken out by the lighting storms. Services such as Netflix, Pinterest, Reddit, and Foursquare -- which run on the Amazon Cloud -- all experienced major outages.
5 -- The cell network quickly became overtaxed to the point that it was difficult in many places to get a connection. This made all the people who had retained their landlines in the face of skepticism from their supercool tech savvy kids feel very self-righteous until they realized that most of their newer phones needed power to actually connect with the landline (unlike the old fashioned phones that draw power from the phone line).
6 -- Many of the traffic signals stopped working. This is not good in the land of "2 and 3 lanes in each direction" local roads.
7 -- I am extremely cranky when overheated.
8 -- See number 7.
The point here is that the era of Extreme Information also means Extreme Information Interdependency. We exist in a web of information dependencies that we can no longer ignore. All of our fine devices are just pretty bricks without power and bandwidth.
So Lesson Two -- Think about the information dependencies in your own organization. What is your plan -- do you have one? -- if the basics go down? Have you thought about how information connections expand exponentially in a networked world and the implications this has for your business?
Have you read my #OccupyIT manifesto?